I once asked if the Oslo accords were a rational attempt to make peace, while Israel still enjoyed a diplomatic and military advantage over its enemies. The range of responses varied from the condescending to bile dripping contempt.
Thus, has opinion relating to Israel become polarised; neither left nor right, religious nor secular recognise the damage this failure to abide by the rules of rational argument causes to the concept of tolerance within society.
Rational argument is dependent on an understanding of all the issues as well as a basic knowledge of history, with all its consequential results. But that takes time, a head and a heart cleared of all prior prejudice and we live in an age of immediacy where anything taking more than a few moments, fails to retain our attention. Study and thoughtful analysis neither gather headlines nor hits on an internet ‘news’ site.
The dysfunctional, emotion laden barbs expressed after any election that fails to deliver the desired outcome of a shrill minority is an indicator of a populist, political mindset that views the electorate as little more than children to be directed, managed or shepherded towards the ‘correct’ outcome. It always leaves at least one party feeling cheated and worse, marginalised. It also makes for the kind of rhetoric that refers to one’s opponents not as rivals, journeying along the same democratic path but as morons; self-centred and illegitimate wreckers who do not deserve the right to vote. One Left of centre celebrity, unable to accept defeat with grace, called his opponents “bloody Neanderthals.” And this is how one side demonises half of the population of a nation, whenever there is a disagreement. We are supposed to be better than this.
Israel is a part of the general global trend towards intolerance and ignorance. Shas ordered Mizrachi voters to vote for their “own kind” while Bibi begged his followers to come out in force to vote because “the Left was herding the Arabs to vote” (as if this kind of rhetoric does anything to help in the integration of the non-Jewish sector in Israeli society). In the latest election, the Likud sent activists into Arab towns to spy on Arab voters.
20% of Israel’s population are Arab or Non-Arab Muslims, Christians and Druze and at least 20% of the Jewish electorate are termed ‘religious.’ That includes both the ultra-orthodox communities, around 8% of the total; many of whom are divided against each other and not just the state, and the remainder who are ‘just’ religious. At the present time the only reason to desire full integration into Israeli society for 28% of Israel’s population (or almost 2.4 million Israelis) is an economic reason. State stipends and charity are insufficient to feed families, where many of the men refuse to work. The issue is that there is little, if any, internal indoctrination within either the ultra-orthodox or the non-Jewish communities on the benefits of belonging to something that is greater than ‘the tribe’ (and that includes Jewish, ultra-orthodox sects). It creates a self-reinforcing suspicion that neither group is loyal to the State.
But the mutual antagonism between a growing proportion of foreign Jewish opinion and Israeli’s living in Israel is reinforced by (on the one hand), Israel exploiting the emotional attachment of the Diaspora towards Israel while (on the other hand) refusing to acknowledge that this creates a dialogue that must be acknowledged, by Israel, with the Diaspora (and which Israeli’s are overwhelmingly contemptuous of).
In the USA, the Left-leaning and assimilationist, J-Street have been known to have appealed to the public to gang up on Israel. David Landau, the Orthodox former Haaretz Editor-in-Chief implored U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to rape Israel in order to extract concessions from its reluctant partner. His suggested method of negotiation tactic, implying plunder, violation; unlawful and violent coercion, was made to the most senior woman in American political society. Landau, the Editor-in-Chief of Israel’s most respected Left-wing newspaper, read by the diplomatic community, foreign journalists and, opinion makers resident in Israel – was morally unconscionable. But it also points to the real issue in Israeli society. The stridency of political debate obscures the lack of sophistication that the political parties exercise in considering how to address any of the issues that divide Israeli society, and how to improve the lot of all Israelis.
The Ashkenazi elite is another area of discord within Israeli society because the duality of any conflict must stand outside of history in order to perpetuate that conflict and this satisfies a need for simplicity that precludes examining the past. In the present, many Mizrachim are portrayed as backward and superstitious. Except that while the Right exploits this prejudiced view to use as a rallying point for disaffected Mizrachim, against a common foe (in this case the Western orientated, Ashkenazi elite), it is those same Ashkenazi religious elites that perpetuate discrimination against the Mizrachim in terms of cultural integration. Additionally, the Left has been traditionally ‘Western’, and it has permitted far too many of its own loud-mouthed bigots to look down on Israel’s Asian origin communities.
All that is changing and one of the biggest problems the Israeli Jewish community has, is perception. Since the 1970’s when intermarriage between Jews of Asian and Western origin stood at about 20% it has been growing by about one per cent per year. The children of this union are culturally Israeli – neither Western nor Asian. This should mitigate any electoral incitement between the communities but instead, the focus is between Israeli Arabs and the rest of the nation.
Faith in the Left is almost non-existent. Policies that benefit all Israeli’s fail to gather enough votes because the legacy of fear is not openly discussed. The right is trusted in overtures towards Peace – making, the Left is not. Similarly, the Left should be the traditional party of compassion, with policies that reflect a Leftist worldview in terms of employment, health, education and welfare. But the Left is viewed as being the party of the pre and Post-Independence generations. The austerity they imposed on society was necessary at that time in history but in terms of attitude, the Left has failed to move on, or at least, it is viewed as being incapable of moving on. Except that the Left’s supporters are often the wealthiest members of society and that also sends a discordant message. Poverty is not expected of our national elite but a message of austerity by those people who are uninhibited in the display of their wealth, rankles. So, the wealthiest families in Israel may or may not, control the economy but they are perceived as doing so and while they remain associated with the Left-wing elites, they remain a group that are simply, untrustworthy for most Israelis.
The Israeli experiment in democracy is miraculous. Zionism has delivered a society that is vibrant in every way. Despite this ‘reality on the ground’, there exist large populations of anti-Zionist groups within ultra-Orthodox, radical Left-wing, radical right-wing and Palestinian-Israeli society. Israel’s greatest failure may well be its failure to confront the tribalism of its diverse multi-ethnic society. Israel’s post-and anti-Zionist groupings are a significant impediment to growth which is ironic when we consider that Israel is one of the strongest countries in the world. There is no history of consensual rule in the Muslim world and Israel’s founding Ashkenazi elite came, for the most part, from hostile and authoritarian tyrannies. So, the issue that should be addressed is that the tribalism that is inherent in any society and not just oppressive ones needs to be defanged for Israeli society and its democracy to flourish. The nation must become the primary tribal identity, religion must be relegated to a layer beneath that of the state.
A survey produced by Ynet and Hiddush, in late 2016, showed that the vast majority of Israeli Jews were disappointed with the States performance on matters of Religion and State. “84% of respondents agreed that the state should permit free choice regarding religious behaviour to the secular and religious alike according to their beliefs.” Even if people remain traditional in their beliefs, they are opposed to imposing those beliefs on others. (The Religion and State Index).
An analysis of the voting patterns in the 2019 General Election (“Demography is (voting) destiny: Ten takeaways from the 2019 election results”) https://www.timesofisrael.com/demography-is-voting-destiny-ten-takeaways-from-the-2019-election-results/ confirmed the distorted reality that is Israeli political life – the prosperous urban dwellers support the Left and the Centre while the impoverished “socioeconomically disadvantaged” voted Likud. The Arabs and the Ultra-orthodox overwhelmingly voted along tribal lines.
The government, in relying on a vocal and militant ultra-orthodox minority in order to maintain its rule, has adopted a toadying acquiescence to one extreme minority religious understanding of how Israeli society should be managed and it is economically failing to support Israel’s neediest members as a direct consequence of this acquiescence to religious blackmail.
Economics seems to be the only constant, defining tribal self-interest. Not national priorities or social stability and certainly not long-term economic growth.
Immediate political gratification is arguably the most serious issue responsible for a crisis in Society and not just in Israel. If we lack any vision for the future and care only for the present, then how can we anticipate future crises? We do not plan for them because that would inevitably cost a lot of money and neither commercial interest nor individuals in society care to shoulder the cost that properly planning for the long-term necessitates. Cynics will point out that if we cannot cope (other than adequately) with the present then how will we deal with the unknowable or acknowledged, unquantifiable future? But without a vision for the future we cannot begin to address our present problems.
We appear far more concerned with tribal interests than how to create a secure future for societies victims. A fatalistic attitude towards the poor, that the they will always be with us, helps to perpetuate the division of society into ‘walled’ communities of interest (tribes). But this runs counter to the furtherance of a healthy national dialogue because the nation state is based on identification with shared values. And while Immigration is the greatest challenge to those values, if the strength of any society depends on its group cohesion then unpopular ideas such as the State, Nationalism and Cultural preference must be debated without threat of violence or denunciation.